The Power of the Breath 

Breathing — it’s one of our most basic human instincts. But it’s easy to forget the power of our breath beyond simply keeping us alive.

Breathe in… Breathe out… It’s one of our most basic human instincts. But it’s easy to forget the power of our breath beyond simply keeping us alive. Mindful breathing, breathing consciously and with intention, has so many proven benefits for our mind and body; from helping to calm our nervous system and reducing stress levels to improving our immune function and lowering blood pressure. It’s no secret, of course, that Pilates and the breath go hand-in-hand. Aside from helping us strengthen, lengthen and improve stamina, controlled breathing in Pilates helps us tune in and become more present – on the Coreformer, the Mat and out in the world.

Why is our breath so important? 

Did you know, we breathe around 20,000 times a day? That’s a lot. Most of the time we don’t even realise we’re doing it. But it’s when we control our breathing patterns that we can really boost our wellbeing. By doing so we lower our blood pressure and heart rate and, in turn, feel calmer as a result. Heartcore founder Jessie Blum says, “When we breathe well, we feel well – nourishing every part of our body.”

Deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing and abdominal breathing, refers to the air coming in through your nose to fill up your lungs. Picture your stomach expanding like a balloon and then gradually shrinking as you breathe out. This kind of breathing activates the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system (‘the rest and digest’ system) which controls many of our physiological reactions. This slow, deep breathing is key to finding calm as it improves our oxygen exchange, meaning we’re breathing in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide through the lungs, which lowers our heart rate and blood pressure. Meanwhile, when we are stressed, our breath tends to be shallow and rapid, reaching only the top part of our lungs which causes a response of greater stress and anxiety in the body – by being more aware of the quality of our breath, we can literally breathe ourselves back into a calm state in mind and body. 

The benefits of deep breathing 

Improves focus | Using deep and slow breathing patterns is a great way to improve your focus. Not only does this rhythm help distract from restless or whirring thoughts, but you’ll also increase the airflow into your body while lowering your heart rate, allowing you to feel calm and clear. This means you allow more oxygen to enter the bloodstream which will help you feel calmer and more engaged.

Increases feelings of calm | We know that breathing exercises can help bring calm to the everyday. In fact, deep breathing is one of the simplest ways to tell your body to relax and lower stress levels as it sends a message to your brain to calm the nervous system. 

Lowers blood pressure and heart rate | Studies show that deep breathing helps lower your heart rate and blood pressure. On the flip side, when your body is under too much stress, its natural response is to raise your blood pressure and heart rate, which can lead to a number of issues including anxiety and chronic stress.

How do you breathe in Pilates?

At Heartcore, we encourage deep belly breathing at the beginning and end of class to help release any underlying tension in the body, bring the body and mind into a state of calm and realise the power mindful breathing can have on our life. “Contrary to strength training, in Pilates we exhale on the effort (exertion) of the exercise to train our core. We use this breathing pattern, also known as lateral breathing, to activate our deep tummy muscles and pelvic floor,” Jessie says. “Pilates breathing directs the breath into the sides of our ribs (rather than the lower belly) to maintain abdominal activation throughout your Pilates workout.”

Practising mindful breathing during Pilates will leave you feeling energised in your body, clear in your mind and strong in your core. 

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